MONTREAL— Two of the must-attend events of ‘launch season’ took place this week with TravelBrands.
It was the TravelBrands team’s first major in-person product launch series since the pandemic. But even with the return to face-to-face, TravelBrands was all about the technology too, with a virtual broadcast of the launches – in Montreal Oct. 3, and at the Paramount EventSpace in Woodbridge, ON on Oct. 4 – on TravelBrands’ online platform. Plus, the theme of the event highlighted the use of new supplier technologies as a key factor in helping travel advisors stay successful.
TravelBrands had challenges during the pandemic, just like every travel supplier and retailer. Now the company is working hard to regain the trust of travel agents and support them as demand soars, says TravelBrands’ Chief Operating Officer, Nathalie Tanious.
That effort, plus great service, makes a winning combination for the company going forward. “We want to give agents the technologies to work smarter, but also provide the service that goes with it,” says Tanious.
And demand is definitely through the roof. One rep with Palladium Hotel Group said: “Sales are going well, the problem is starting to be availability, especially on the Costa Mujeres side.” And several hoteliers and cruise lines said they’re already well into selling 2024 and 2025.
INTERVIEW WITH FRANK DEMARINIS AND NATHALIE TANIOUS
In an interview with Tanious and CEO Frank DeMarinis, we wanted to know: how is the company doing after two years of the pandemic, what’s selling well, and why is developing new tech tools a priority?
“Things are going well for TravelBrands,” says DeMarinis. “The last three years have been difficult and we are no exception. But for the past few months we have seen strong growth, particularly in the car rental segments, up 130% compared to 2019. We’re also seeing growth in air bookings, up 100% compared to 2019. Hotel bookings are up 140% compared to 2019. And for cruises, our numbers also exceed those of 2019!”
Tanious added that FIT is especially strong, and cruises. “At the moment, we have two types of customers,” she says. “First we have customers who book about 45 days before departure to the Caribbean, Florida, Vegas, Disney. These are good sellers, trips they wanted to take and are simple to make now. Then there are the other customers, those who want to prepare their dream trips. They had two and a half years to think about it. They want to go on safari, do combination trips to Europe, do their cruise around the world. So there are really two types of marketing angles right now.”
DeMarinis confirmed that bookings increased as soon as the announcement went out Sept. 26 about the elimination of Canada’s last remaining travel restrictions on Oct. 1. “As soon as there is a positive announcement from the government, we see a growth in bookings,” he said.
CUTTING-EDGE TECH TOOLS KEY FOR AGENTS
We asked DeMarinis and Tanious how TravelBrands can help travel advisors cope with the high demand,. Their answer? Tech tools. “We want to build robust technology to help agents grow their sales. We want them to save time by having information visible more quickly, such as cancellation conditions,” says DeMarinis.
Getting special attention at the launch events this week was TravelBrands’ Access platform: “We have revamped the platform and updates will be available in a few weeks. There will be new search features.”
The company is also launching ‘Gigi’, a new flight search engine. It will be available in a few weeks as well. “Agents are going to love it when they see it,” said DeMarinis. “There are specific algorithms to optimize search for travel agents. It will be easy for agents to sell, for example, upgrades to customers.”
And when it comes to a budget for all this new tech, the sky’s the limit, from the sounds of things. “It was one of the projects that we didn’t have a set budget on, it was almost unlimited,” said DeMarinis. “We wanted to be sure to come back stronger. The pandemic has taught us many things, including good ones. We focused on the opportunity to become better on the technological side. It’s such an important point to attract agents to work with us.”
He adds: “I understand what it’s like to be a travel agent, and the time spent researching a product for a customer is a big challenge where our robust technology can help. We want the agents to integrate the technology. This is the key to sustaining growth. With the new Access platform, they can do more things online, without calling our call centre. All basic and important things can be done online.”
A JOURNEY TO THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH: A TRAVELBRANDS EXCLUSIVE
TravelBrands is also innovating on the product side with its Sunquest and Exotic divisions.
“We have great news,” says DeMarinis. “One of them is our partnership with Space Perspectives, which will be launched in 2024. It is a capsule that will take travellers to the surface of the earth. We are really proud of this partnership. We will allow travellers to experience something unique and we have the exclusivity of this partnership. This will be sold as early as November through Exotic.”
“WE WANT TRAVELBRANDS TO BE THE #1 TOUR OP”
Said DeMarinis at the Montreal event on Oct. 3: “I would like to thank all the agents for their support and salute everyone who is still in the industry. The industry is changing and we are part of that change. We want TravelBrands to be the #1 tour operator they can rely on.”
He added: ”Despite what we’ve been through, we’re still here. It shows that our industry is resilient, and it shows the passion we have for travel. We will never stop. We can slow down, but we will keep moving forward. ‘The show must go on’. This industry will survive and shine more in the future, there is no doubt in my mind. For all the travel agents who have left this industry, I invite you to come back to it, because it will be bigger and stronger than ever. Let’s put all our strength together to serve travellers.”
Travelweek’s Annie Cicvaric attended the Toronto / Woodbridge event last night, Oct. 4. “Relationships go a long way in this industry, as you all know, and we’re going to continue to build on those relationships. And so tonight, it’s all about you, and what we can do for you,” said DeMarinis, speaking to hundreds of travel advisors and 70+ suppliers at the Toronto / Woodbridge, ON event.
DeMarinis also encouraged agents to get familiar with TravelBrands’ new tech tools, at their own pace. “I know a lot of agents don’t want to use technology because you’re fearful,” he said last night. “But just do this. You don’t have to embrace it overnight. Take baby steps on technology. Don’t take it in all at once. And if you ever need any help, we are here to assist you. Because if there’s anything that we can do to improve your lives, and improve your relationships with your customers, that’s what we’re here to do. That’s our job. We’re here for you.”
In return agents get access to TravelBrands’ one-stop shop providing choice and options nationally, with 90 different airlines, 19 cruise lines, 10+ car rental companies, rail passes, golf and ski, theme parks and more than one million hotels worldwide.
Profession Voyages’ Gwendoline Duval covered the TravelBrands launch in Montreal on Oct. 3. Travelweek’s Annie Cicvaric attended TravelBrands’ Toronto / Woodbridge launch on Oct. 4. Photos are from the Oct. 4 event.